Thumbs up turns into summer of financial pressure for Phoenix Suns
As you, along with the players, coaches and anyone associated with the squad, mourn the abrupt end of the 2021-22 season for the Phoenix Suns with a loss in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, take a long moment to consider the importance of those last six words: Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
The Phoenix Suns just completed fastest turnaround in NBA history to reach the Finals barely two years later being one of the two worst teams in the NBA.
The Suns also became the only team in NBA history to experience a 10-year playoff drought with a thrilling final run.
No, they didn’t win a championship, which would have been the first in franchise history. The Suns lost their third NBA Finals in 53 years, all by a four-to-two margin, while the Milwaukee dollars used a former 15th overall who became a two-time MVP to win his second championship in 53 years of history.
You are in pain today. But make no mistake: the Phoenix Suns are real, and they are spectacular.
They lost the final to a veteran team whose brightest stars – Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton – suffered five years of playoff grief to get there and were tagged as recently as a month ago like not good enough to win a ring.
I’m happy for them and their fans.
The Suns, on the other hand, skipped all of those steps to the final before realizing “oh shit, we don’t have an answer for this guy.” They know how lucky they are and they tried to embrace that gratitude while going over it to win a ring anyway. It almost worked.
The Finals started off as a comfortable trio of wins, with the Suns winning two of three, then progressed to three straight wins where the Bucks simply made more of the bigger plays than the Suns.
The series was near. Oh so close.
In six games and 1,441 minutes of play, the Bucks only took one more shot and 12 more free throws for a final margin of 14 points.
Alas, the Suns lost. It doesn’t matter how close the series was. It’s finish.
Now they have to figure out how to get back there next June.
Bleacher Report’s Mo Dakhil has already given us a glimpse of how an outsider views the Suns in the years to come. It classifies the Suns as 3rd best team in a power ranking for the next three years, behind only the Bucks and Nets, which ranks them at the top of the West.
3. Phoenix Suns
As surprising as the Suns’ race to the final is, the team is pretty well organized for the next few years. Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson are all [at or] under 25 and Deandre Ayton is only 22. Assuming Phoenix agrees to extend contracts or matches any contracts Ayton and Bridges receive in the 2022 offseason, this young core should be together for a long time. Add to that Jae Crowder, who has signed with the team for the next two seasons, the Suns’ core is almost completely locked down. The big question is whether Chris Paul will opt for his contract for next season.
Even if Paul leaves, Phoenix has a lot of talent on the roster and with this recent run he could bring in a younger replacement who fits the team’s schedule better. The Suns have only one pick in the outgoing draft, and that’s Oklahoma City for Paul’s trade. He’s more likely to be passed on in the 2022 draft, so Phoenix would be free to move future picks or add more talent to their roster.
Ultimately, this team is well built for the short and long term. There’s no reason to believe that the Suns won’t be a threat to the West in the years to come, especially as they get into Booker’s early years.
On this list of 30 NBA teams, Mo ranks the Lakers (4th) just behind the Suns, then Jazz (5th), Nuggets (10th), Clippers (11th), Mavericks (13th), Grizzlies (14th), Pelicans (15th), Warriors (17th), Kings (21st) , Blazers (23rd), Wolves (24th), Rockets (26th), Thunder (28th) and at the very bottom are the Spurs (30th).
Some of those rankings might seem silly, but the considerations here are the current builds of each team’s roster before making any draft picks or trades or signing new free agents. Spurs currently have no star to put them in the running, and the Blazers may well lose theirs faster than they can acquire a second.
Mo’s intro goes like this:
The teams were ranked according to their current situation and their likely situation in three years. For example, a team that is a lottery club may be higher in the ranking than a current competitor. The criteria are the appearance of the team’s current roster, management of ceilings, draft fairness and overall place in the league.
Discover the full article: Power Rankings Over Each NBA Team’s Three-Year Window
Of course, all of these rankings can potentially change this offseason. Some teams with a bleak future can take big steps in the right direction. Some good teams could become contenders, like the Suns did last year. And some great teams could be vitiated by a bad offseason.
Mo is right that the Suns are in control of their core and are very likely to keep Chris Paul or, if he leaves, find a comparable replacement. James Jones has already acquired Ricky Rubio and Chris Paul in back-to-back offseason. Key is the continued growth of the Booker-Ayton-Bridges core, Jones’ ability to find great players around them, and the shine of Monty Williams as a coach.
What the suns CANNOT do is become next Thunder of Oklahoma City. Like this year’s Suns, the Young Thunder reached the final even before their young core had reached their peak, only to trade James Harden because they feared for the money. They didn’t want to extend both Serge Ibaka and Harden in the same offseason having already rookie-maxed Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the previous two years. They never touched the final again.
Closer to home, Robert Sarver can’t do what he himself did in 2005-06, losing youngster Joe Johnson to extension talks. The Suns were the darling of the NBA on the cusp of a dynasty, but Johnson’s eventual transaction along with other money-saving measures undermined any championship aspirations.
Sarver said a few years ago that losing Joe was his biggest regret as owner of the Suns, so he can’t let that happen again with Ayton or Bridges. Based on how these two have improved this year and given their incredible basketball skills, they are only going to get more expensive the more they play.
First lesson: don’t be the Robert Sarver of 2005, and don’t be the Sam Presti of 2012.
And let’s see if they can capture another mark of magic and make the finale again.